Editor's note



Recently, I got a piece of advice that I can’t wait to try out. An English friend, who flies regularly between L.A. and London to visit family, claims to have pretty much left the airborne iron maiden that is coach seating behind forever, all because of good grooming. In a nutshell, he gets upgraded to business class or better because he looks presentable.

Visualize an airline terminal, he said. I closed my eyes and suddenly there it was, a roiling, boiling mass of humanity at its most bovine and disengaged, wandering, sidestepping, lurching, crashing and moving on as if they were flesh-covered bumper cars, draped in torn T-shirts printed with immense, leering skulls, encased in ripped jeans and ragged midriff blouses and tank tops and sweat suits and yoga pants, a tapestry of grotesque tattoos slapping their way to the departure gate in grimy flip-flops.

It was a ring of hell that Dante either missed or simply thought was too horrible to commit to print.

Which is why, my friend said, that he makes a point of arriving at the terminal freshly bathed, shaven and subtly cologned, resplendent in pressed trousers, starched shirt, shined shoes, smartly knotted tie and well-fitted jacket.

“Who,” he said, “do you think they’re going to upgrade if there’s an open seat? The guy who hasn’t showered or changed his clothes in three days and looks like it, or me?” He added the capper: When you get upgraded, that fact goes into the airline’s database, so the next time you’re at the airport looking sharp and a ticketing agent pulls up your name—bingo, another upgrade.

Later, as I was planning my wardrobe choices for my next flight, it occurred to me that the upgrade trick had huge metaphorical possibilities, not the least of which applied to the practice of swearing. We’ve all seen it: just like the coach passenger who may be a nice enough guy, but whose chosen attire—lounge pants, extra-tight muscle shirt and ratty bedroom slippers—make him look like a refugee, the guy in the bespoke tailored suit and hundred-dollar haircut who regularly crams a dozen high-octane swear words into a single sentence starts to sour the atmosphere in a real hurry.

On the other hand, think of the person who lives in the real world and is familiar with all the loaded words and even knows how to use them—but doesn’t. This is the person whose words are going to be listened to and heeded. This is the person who is going to get engraved invitations, get calls returned, get asked to offer toasts and, yes, get that empty seat in business class.

Just as it doesn’t take a lot of extra effort to dress neatly, neither does it require much sweat to cut down on the blue lingo. A favorite strategy: get a “swear jar.” When you swear, throw a buck in the jar (or, if you’re really serious, a ten-spot). Then, at the end of the month, go out to a really nice restaurant.

Or, at the end of the year, to France. With new clothes. Ask for an upgrade.